What did the Golden Flashes have to show for it? A 7-0 deficit.
Two impressive drives deep into Bobcats' territory were nixed by two back-breaking turnovers in the opening minutes. And that proved to be the beginning of the end for the Flashes, who managed to hang around for two quarters before Ohio reeled off 17 unanswered points in the second half to claim a convincing 31-7 victory before 19,412 fans at Peden Stadium.
"Those turnovers just killed us," said a grimacing Kent State coach Jim Corrigall. "You have a momentum shift, then you have to go out and regroup. Then you have another momentum shift, and you have to go out and regroup again. And that's difficult to do."
The Flashes were forced to endure two of the most drastic and painful momentum shifts imaginable in the early going.
Quarterback Todd Goebbel completed his first four passes, including a 39-yard strike to wide receiver Dedrick Paul, as Kent State took the opening kickoff and promptly marched to the Ohio 12-yard line. But on a 3rd and 10 play, Ohio's blitz forced a Goebbel fumble which was picked up by Sean Williams and returned to the Flashes' 48.
But Kent State seemed to rebound, as it's defense forced an Ohio punt before Goebbel once again led the Flashes deep into Bobcats' territory. Goebbel hit Eugene Baker for 15 yards, then a pass interference call moved the football to Ohio's 34.
Then tragedy struck.
Goebbel found tight end Jason Gavadza in the flat and Gavadza made the catch before Ohio safety Brandon Cade popped him, forcing a fumble that cornerback Tevell Jones scooped up and hauled 66 yards into the end zone to give Ohio a 7-0 lead with 5:29 remaining in the first quarter.
Turnover No. 2 seemed to momentarily daze the Flashes, who were forced to punt after three consecutive dropped passes on their next possession.
"Drops happen," said Goebbel. "It's frustrating, but I know our receivers have the ability to catch the ball. It was just one of those days."
Following a short punt, Ohio marched 51 yards in nine plays to take a 14-0 lead after a 2-yard touchdown run by Riz Buckman. But the Flashes struck back.
Goebbel found a wide-open Gavadza over the middle for 40 yards to the Ohio 36. From there, two Ohio penalties set up a 2-yard run by Goebbel that trimmed the deficit to 14-7 with 10:19 left in the first half.
Kent State then received a break when Bobcats' kicker Brian Huston missed a 28-yard field goal on their next possession. And Goebbel immediately heaved a 43-yard bomb to Baker, moving the ball to Ohio's 34.
But one play later, Goebbel's pass intended for Baker deep down the sideline was picked off by Sean Williams after Baker got tangled up with a defender.
At this point, four trips deep into Ohio territory had yielded just seven points for the Flashes, who trailed 14-7 at the half.
"We could have easily given up 21 points in the first half," said Ohio coach Jim Grobe. "I don't know if those turnovers built as much momentum for us as it took out of them, but our players got our eyes opened in the first half. We realized we'd better come out to play in the second half, or we'd be in trouble."
The Bobcats obviously chose the former.
First Ohio kicked its option into high gear. Quarterback Kareem Wilson directed an eight-play, 78-yard drive to open the half, culminated by Wilson's 10-yard touchdown run that put the Bobcats up 21-7.
Then the defense took over, forcing the Flashes to punt from deep in their own territory. And Rahim Slaise promptly blocked Matt Groff's punt, which bounced out of the end zone for a safety as the Bobcats seized complete control.
Goebbel and company were held in check the rest of the way. After throwing for 165 yards in the first half, the Flashes' quarterback completed just 4 of 12 tosses for 23 yards in the second half while facing constant pressure from the Bobcats, who blitzed on nearly every play.
"I still don't believe anyone stops us ... we stop ourselves," said Goebbel. "But I have to give Ohio credit. They covered Baker (shutout in second half) and took away our underneath routes in the second half, and they disguised their blitzes really well. They have a nice scheme."
Meanwhile, Ohio's option wore down Kent State's defense. After a slow start, the Bobcats churned out 220 yards on the ground in the second half to finish with 389 yards rushing on 58 carries. Buckman, who carried the ball just 27 times a year ago, finished with 135 yards on 16 carries while John Cosgrove added a 53-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter to end all doubt.
"Defensively, compared to this time last year, we were much more
effective," said Corrigall. "Offensively, we didn't perform as well as I
expected, and that hurt. But we'll regroup. We'll be better next